Monday, November 4, 2013

Remember The Bullpen

The vast majority of the free agent talk has revolved around two men... Robinson Cano and Masahiro Tanaka, and for good reason. Cano has been the Yankees best hitter for years, while the retirement of Andy Pettitte and likely loss of Hiroki Kuroda mean the rotation needs a top of the rotation starter.

"Bring back Robbie! And sign Tanaka!"

But we can't forget that the retirement of Mariano Rivera has left a big hole in the bullpen. Not when it comes to the closer role, as I've lobbied hard for David Robertson to take over that spot for a while. And there are plenty of viable arms to fill other reliever roles, but a little extra oomph would sure be nice.

Like I said in my "What I'd Like To See" series, I wouldn't be totally against trying Shawn Kelley as the 8th inning guy, but I can't say I'd be 100% comfortable with it. Kelley did have a very nice strikeout rate of 12 per nine innings last season, although it was well above his career number of 8.6 before 2013. And while Shawn has a walk rate that's a touch too high for such a spot in the bullpen, it's not like D-Rob wouldn't be able to come in for a 4+-out save once in a while (In his career, Rivera completed 241 games while getting more than three outs).

You can go here to see a list of free agent relievers, however I'm going to go over the ones that interest me...

Edward Mujica

Before 2013, Mujica has saved just four games (two for the Padres in 2009 and two for the Marlins in 2012), however Edward ended up saving 37 games for the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. His strikeout rate of 7.2 per nine innings in his career isn't overly impressive, especially when you consider that it was only at 6.4 in 2013, so that may be of concern. But when you put so few runners on base, I don't think you need to worry. Over his last 275.2 innings pitched, Mujica's WHIP is a very low 1.001.

I expect the 29 year old would be able to find a closing gig in 2014, but the Yankees should keep an eye on him.

Jesse Crain

Crain has spent the last three years with the Chicago White Sox, where he's had an ERA of 2.10 that goes along with a similarly nice WHIP of 1.167. In his last two seasons, Crain has posted the same strikeout rate of 11.3 per nine innings, and saw his walk rate drop from 4.3 per nine innings to only 2.7.

Unlike Mujica, Crain isn't a good choice to be a team's closer, seeing as how 4 saves in 28 opportunities throughout his career. That's not to say he's blown 24 saves, just that he hasn't gotten a chance to finish games and thus earn the save. The point is, unlike Mujica, he's far more likely to accept a set-up role.

But don't think this is a no-brainer, as I've so far left out a big issue... Crain is currently recovering from a shoulder strain that resulted in him missing the entire second half of the season. Jesse has had issues with his throwing shoulder a handful of times in his career, including having surgery on it in 2009 to repair a torn labrum. So there's plenty of risk involved here. But that risk could make the 2013 All Star inexpensive, and worth a try.

Juan Carlos Oviedo

The former Leo Nunez, who saved 92 games for the Marlins between 2009 and 2011, was signed to a minor league contract with the Rays last season. He didn't appear in any games last season, as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. And he barely threw in 2012, accumulating only six innings in the minors.

This is another one of those "let's take a shot on an injured guy" things, which I'm sure some fans are getting sick of. But we're not talking about a regular player here, like what other reclamation projects were signed for. If Oviedo/Nunez didn't work out, that's when somebody like Kelley would get a shot. Or that could lead to a youngster like Dellin Betances getting a bigger role with the team.

Juan's career strikeout rate of 7.3 per nine innings isn't awesome by any means, but it was at 9.8 in 2010. And his WHIP has hovered around 2.50 since 2007. His walk-rate isn't bad either, as it only went above 3 per nine innings once since 2007.

Jose Veras

Veras first came to the Yankees in 2006, but was never given that much of a chance. Over four seasons with the Bombers, Jose only threw 103.2 innings, before he was dealt to the Cleveland Indians for cash.

He's done a fairly good job in the past three seasons, with an ERA of 3.50 while striking out 9.8 batters per nine innings. Jose has walked a few too many batters in his career, so that would concern me a bit. But he did save 21 games last season, while tells me he could handle late-game pressure.

Joe Nathan

At one point Joe Nathan was considered one of the best closers in the game. Before having Tommy John surgery before the 2010 season, Joe had saved 246 games in the previous six seasons for the Minnesota Twins. His first season back from TJS was rough, but from 2012 to 2013 Joe has recorded 80 saves for the Texas Rangers.

Nathan's strikeout rate of 10.5 per nine innings, along with an ERA just above 2.00, makes him a very attractive candidate to pair up with David Robertson.

The only question when it comes to going after Nathan is cost. Although he will turn 39 in a few weeks, Nathan is looking at getting closer-type money rather than middle reliever-type money. That could mean he'll get $12 million per year, rather than $12 million over three years like most quality middle relievers would be looking at.

Then again, $12 million a season may be a bit high, but the point is still the same... Joe Nathan is not going to easily fit into the austerity budget, especially with all the holes the team needs to fill in key/regular spots.

That gives the Yankees two very nice but more costly options in Mujica and Nathan, a solid option in Jose Veras, and two good reclamation projects in Crain and Oviedo. With the team apparently being interested in guys like Granderson, McCann, Beltran, Choo, and Tanaka, I see no way they can spend much on the bullpen. So Jesse Crain would be my choice. But if the front office says "eff it", and opens up the checkbook, then by all means go after Joe Nathan.

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